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What Is Going On?
by Joel Hirst (September 2018)
Adorning the walls of my living room are pictures I have taken, printed large and glossy, of places across a world which has grown small. I often gaze at them, representing as they do—at least to me—the history of the rise and fall of countries and civilizations each telling me something about myself and, in turn, about others as well. Of those who rub up against me in the supermarket or on overcrowded subways or hurl insults at me over social media. About how ruin happens. But ruins captured on aluminum and put on display for an erstwhile guest to comment on do not capture the sadness or anxiety of how things fall away; the photographs of great buildings now empty or become instead curiosities for the tourists. “Please place your backpacks and purses in the alcoves and adjust your headsets to the correct language, the tour is about to begin.” Swarms of High School students shuffling along, faces glued to their smartphones: Da Vinci and Jackson Pollock, denuded of meaning, naked of significance product of learning married to understanding—wisdom it was called before that term was christened as bigotry. “Bathrooms are to the right, please walk through the gift shop.”
That is if those places are lucky; the Latin Quarter inside the ring of newly-occupied Paris or walking the policed throngs of Sultanahmet’s ancient quarter where the chariots rode—Elysium held secure by wire-and-razor or the equally restrictive values of property in a society which no longer has any time for the riffraff, we used to call them “my fellow Americans.” The places I have often snapped are—due to perhaps the unique nature of my work—no longer on anyone’s curiosity list as they slip away from the Westphalian political maps printed in places safe and cold and clean, maps which tell only lies as “A pre-modern formlessness governs the battlefield, evoking the wars in medieval Europe (…), which ushered in the era of organized nation-states.” States that existed in Europe but never, not really, in the third world; where in truth maps represent more “(…) the Victorian atlas (…) consist(ing) of a series of coastal trading posts (…) and an interior that, owing to violence, volatility, and disease, is again becoming, as Graham Greene once observed, ‘blank’ and ‘unexplored,’” as Robert Kaplan has eloquently written. But, I trekked these areas, to a certain degree, and I captured them for my walls—trophies of a man who ventured off the map to the places hic sunt dracones (where there be dragons).
Timbuktu besieged by jihadis, Sankore Place alone and quiet where wizened men once debated Aristotle and Ibn Khaldun; Lubero, that most lost outpost of the Belgians under the imposing shadow of the Rwenzori mountains from which they administered a tiny corner of the Congo, now home to rape and the Hutu genocidaire; Sharm el Sheikh, resorts no longer full of Brits or Russians, boarded over and safeguarded by an old man smoking a cigarette in front of abandoned condos, glass smashed out, and occasional police checkpoints, “Just don’t go beyond the Ring of Steel,” they warn me, hic sunt dracones. Signs on the highways in southern Arizona warning tourists of areas controlled mostly by drug cartels and human smugglers. Flying fast on I-90 over south Chicago dodging the bullets, hic sunt dracones. To a certain extent, and almost as if by design, that is also what the political progressives believed—and desired—from the “flyover states;” Trump land. Abandon them, ignore them, assault them—carnage them; prop them up on public assistance and then leave them to fade into an “unexplored” part of America where no one need go; which need not be considered in post-modern plans of world order. As they so eloquently write from Seattle Stranger’s Editorial Board, “Citizens of the Urban Archipelago reject heartland ‘values’ like xenophobia, sexism, racism, and homophobia, as well as the more intolerant strains of Christianity that have taken root in this country. And we are the real Americans. They—rural, red-state voters, the denizens of the exurbs—are not real Americans. They are rubes, fools, and hate-mongers. Who wants to go to small-town America now? You people scare us. We'll island-hop from now on, thank you, spending our time and our money in blue cities.”  Hic sunt dracones. Except it failed—the passengers of flight 93 revolted—more of that further on.
It is the failure of liberalism which is returning us to the medieval maps. Failure which is first felt as a blurring at the distant edges of our world order; a haziness like a fog or a blizzard into which nobody can see and in which anything can happen. Lake Chad; the Altiplano in Bolivia; Sham. Places which existed glorious for a time under the dominion of empires and the watchful supervision of their despot-guardians now abandoned to themselves as the center ossifies and calcifies, the life-juices of their resilience drained away through insecurity, victimization and a so great a war of cultures. Tribes, no longer on the far fringes but instead marching down streets where in earlier times conquering soldiers were celebrated—little pink hats replacing bayonetted rifles as the trivial and inane takes front-and-center in our national conversation. The denial of reason and the mind in exchange for . . . well for what, nobody can say.
But Why Has Liberalism Failed?
I am often accused by my friends of being a nostalgic cold warrior; having arrived too late for the fight against the Soviet Union to wrestle with communism, and only coming of age when the ideas of collective dominion have returned to inspire the popular imaginations of the naïve; of course, after the appropriate “time out” as penance for the 100,000,000 murder victims. I point to Venezuela and Nicaragua and Cuba and on, to the braying of donkeys who claim “But that is there, not here.” As if ideas do not transcend borders, as if America is immune to bad ideas. “Don’t interfere with our utopias” they say “because socialism must save us from so great a prosperity as we have known.”
Now, having spent seven years in communist Venezuela; having immersed myself in economic Marxism behind a plantain curtain, where the same old ideas of central planning, government control of the means of production—economic Marxism, they called it “21st Century Socialism”–were advanced using cultural Marxism as a vehicle, I admit I have been blind, or if not blind at least sort of myopic. So, laser-focused on understanding plantain communism with its expropriations and its cooperatives and its labor camps and its vertical chicken farms, I fully missed the point when Hugo Chavez regaled the maddened crowds on his seven-hour Sunday TV show, saying “It’s important for everybody to read Antonio Gramsci” and “We are re-examining the ideas of Norberto Ceresole.” Cultural Marxism, with a nativist trend.
In America, it seems like the upward mobility, at least, has forced the economic Marxists to lay aside those tired old projects; and we have grown complacent as we hear the nouveau Marxists speaking less of expropriation and central planning and more of social “protections” and “universal rights” for services which were never envisioned by those who thought of “life, liberty and pursuit of happiness.” In point of fact, however, the ideas of communism that we had believed were forever gone have returned, rescued from “a rubbish heap of history” as Petrarch said of medieval Rome, and set on display upon the mantles of people anxious to flaunt their ignorance as the new avant-garde of the moment; having discovered again the comforting utopias.
But these are not your parent’s commies.
America’s ancient Marxists have been replaced by a younger cadre of cultural Marxists who think more of the blood running through our veins and the pigments of our skins and the terrible tyranny of our private parts than of the class into which we were born.
As all communists have been, they too are from the elites—elite universities and families of the powerful—but they have stopped even the pretense of caring for the “poor” as a class and do not talk of workers or their revolutions. Instead, they speak constantly of equality; but theirs is not an equality of outcomes necessarily (though there are some Che Guevara and Hugo Chavez communists in their mix) but instead equality as a utopia of a universal, colorless, genderless, family-less, cultureless entity. Victims; that is who the cultural Marxists think about these days. The victim, the oppressed is at the center of their society. “But how do we get oppression?” they ask, the start of their quest for the villains. Their answer, the evil starts as a tiny seed benign and un-noteworthy, preference. Because it is that preference which leads to prejudice which leads to racism and bigotry in a straight line to discrimination followed by oppression. Therefore, the new Marxists are always on the hunt for oppressors who show any preference for anything—especially if it is one’s own culture, one’s own food, one’s own music. These are dangerous signs of a coming bigotry and must be expunged (the victims and oppressed may retain their preferences, being as they are acts of resistance against the oppressors—and oppressors may not prefer victim preferences, that is cultural appropriation and is yet another means by which the oppressors dominate the oppressed).
America’s new left; America’s cultural Marxists have no desire to control the means of production. They do not want to return to the fields planting corn like the peasants of soviet Russia; they do not want to manage goat rotation cooperatives in the interior of Venezuela; nor do they want to work as slave-labor in the slums of every country in Latin America like the for-rent Cuban doctors. They do not seek to be cooperative owners of assembly lines producing this or that widget, prices set by some tortured calculation of the value of their labor and purchased in diminishing returns as the economic project strangles the lifeblood out of once-vibrant economies and returns the bread lines to America. That all takes too much work; the new cultural Marxists don’t have the patience for that kind of effort.
This new generation of cultural Marxists are keener to recede into “safe spaces,” controlling those who control the means of production by intimidation and the monopolization of moral outrage. A mammoth state, under their control, co-mingled with over-taxed mega-corporations from which flows runoff wealth which can be used to “guarantee” more citizens “human rights” (the economic, social and cultural ones which are, to an extent, a bait and switch, creating as they do obligations which can only be fulfilled by the gargantuan state which the founders warned us against); and then dolling out benefits in a great “social democracy” which slowly turns to “democratic socialism” as the state gets bigger and more coercive as it feeds off itself in the dark. Finally, in exhaustion, the word “democracy” is dropped once and for all; when the state loses its control of itself.
As the civil and political rights of our Bill of Rights are slowly replaced, as the citizen is replaced in the center of society by the victim, and as our speech is policed by those who only see oppression, our liberalism failed.
Our liberalism collapsed, as Patrick Deneen has written, not from the failure of our model, but from its extraordinary success. We are reaching the end result of the ideas distilled to their most elemental and then served to a fast-food culture which no longer contemplates the ideas of society and community and—most importantly—of responsibility. This has come through a corruption of the idea of liberty eagerly, if ignorantly, advanced by our politicians and our entertainment industry and our universities. “Ancient Greek and early Christian political philosophy defined ‘liberty’ as the capacity to cultivate virtue in order to govern one’s self and one’s city with restraint,” Christian Gonzalez writes. Yet, slowly the values of “restraint” and “virtue” have been replaced with “you do you” and “your freedom ends where mine starts.” “Live and let die,” as Guns and Roses (and Paul McCartney and Wings) sing. True liberty is no longer understood as that control of the demons which torment individuals and society, but instead license to do exactly as we please—bereft of any moral and communitarian consequences.
Perhaps I too have gone astray in my understanding of the trends; a possibility which I am correcting here. Having focused on life behind Venezuela’s plantain curtain, I have interpreted the American cultural Marxist as another version of soviet collectivism, disdaining in my economic libertarian enthusiasm what I was reminded of by Patrick Deneen, that there is a type of collectivism which is important for a life lived at peace. That this collectivism is the bedrock of civilization; it is called culture. That which is shared, commonly agreed upon as sacred values we hold and common beliefs we cherish and collective institutions which deserve our protection. “Preserved in discrete human inheritances—arts, literature, music, architecture, history, law, religion—culture expands the human experience of time, making both the past and the future present to creatures who otherwise experience only the present moment,” as Deneen writes.
The cultural Marxists see all these collective restraints and expressions as corrupted, as signs of a lasting oppression, emanating as they do from fundamentally flawed humans. This is the singular pillar of intersectionality (more below) which requires their destruction by a new and pervading anticulture, “Anticulture is the consequence of a regime of standardizing law replacing widely observed informal norms that come to be discarded as forms of oppression; and it is the simultaneous consequence of a universal and homogenous market, resulting in a monoculture that, like its agricultural analogue, colonizes and destroys actual cultures rooted in experience, history, and place.”
To continue the fight against oppression on behalf of the victim, cultural Marxists seek the divorce of individual from the constraints that local culture, developed over years, places upon them—abandoning the need for community consent and local acquiescence to their behavior and ideals, and instead receiving their license from a mammoth and distant state through homogenizing laws written in echo chambers of the elites. Seen as such, cultural Marxism—while no less totalitarian—has freed itself from the pesky famines which ensue upon each attempt of enacting their economic model (especially in a society which is no longer poor—not really); but, instead, seeks the creation of a new “social contract” to smooth over society’s differences in favor of a managed diversity by creating a monolithic and homogenized system perfectly balanced by elite managers in control of a massive state apparatus.
Cultural Marxism, as introduced to us by Antonio Gramsci and propagated by the Frankfurt School at Colombia University, understood that no longer could the world seek a revolution of the proletariat against the bourgeoise. Communism—utopian “harmony” if you will—would instead be introduced to society through the creation of victimized micro-identities collectively assembled in search of mutual protection; with a corresponding “great march through the institutions” knocking down citizen safeguards with that noble goal as a pretext and using the words “Social Justice” which is, of course, the opposite of true justice, because social justice seeks excuses and exceptions and true justice seeks unity under law. The collectivism found in culture was in itself discriminatory, responding as it did to power structures outside the control of the “oppressed” and “victimized” and therefore would need to be overthrown in order to power the individuals to their true, and real, nature—a nature free of constraints. An individual nature which at last would be divorced from its ancient place in “the image of God” and as such no longer needs to conform to ancient binary ideas of right and wrong, man or woman, success or failure, positive and negative but could, instead, exist in comfort in the fluid grey areas of a world protected by the state which in turn became the tool to terrorize any naysayers into silence for fear of being called “racist” or “bigoted”—words so charged they immediately poison the well, leaving no room for civilized debate.
One of the main enemies of the new faith is objective truth.
The advance of post-modernism has laid aside the rationalism of modernity to be replaced by a subjectivism which knows no truth. This post-modern philosophy is important, for it paves the way for the construction of totalitarian non-truths, such as we are seeing in the world. As Alexandre Koyré wrote,
The official philosophies of the totalitarian regimes unanimously brand as nonsensical the idea that there exists a single objective truth valid for everybody. The criterion of ‘truth,’ they say, is not agreement with reality, but agreement with the spirit of a race or nation or class—that is, racial, national or utilitarian. Pushing to their limits the biological, pragmatist, activist theories of truth, the official philosophies of the totalitarian regimes deny the inherent value of thought. For them thought is not a light but a weapon: its function, they say, is not to discover reality as it is, but to change and transform it with the purpose of leading us towards what is not. Such being the case, myth is better than science and rhetoric that works on the passions preferable to proof that appeals to the intellect.
For the post-modern cultural Marxists, there is no objectivity that can exist beyond the experiences of the oppressed; and extending these beliefs, nothing good and true can come from a vessel infused by human prejudices and flaws such as racism, classism, sexism, and fascism. It is for this reason the new faith is totalitarian, as stated by Koyre above. All truth is subjective; Soren Kierkegaard wrote,
When the question about truth is asked objectively, truth is reflected upon objectively as an object to which the knower relates himself. What is reflected upon is not the relation but that what he relates himself to is the truth, the true. If only that to which he relates himself is the truth, the true, then the subject is in the truth. When the question about truth is asked subjectively, the individual’s relation is reflected upon subjectively. If only the how of this relation is in truth, the individual is in truth, even if he in this way were to relate himself to untruth.” .
If people see only oppression and discrimination; feel only oppression and discrimination; think only of oppression and discrimination, that becomes their truth. Kierkegaard’s subjectivism becomes Albert Camus’ existentialism and ends—as all such progressions must—in Friedrich Nietzsche nihilism. Post-modernism unto death.
Statues are felled; curriculum rewritten; songs banned. Safe spaces are carved out; trigger warnings are mandated—philosophers are expunged from history. Honor killings and acid attacks; lawsuits against bakers exercising their faith; assaults against public speakers or chicken restaurants—all the new burnt offerings on the altar of the a new faith which, too, demands sacrifices.
Why the inconsistencies? The definition of subjectivity is, “taking place within the mind and modified by individual bias.” And a new faith coalesces—intersectionality. As the dictionary describes it, “the interconnected nature of social categorizations such as race, class, and gender as they apply to a given individual or group, regarded as creating overlapping and interdependent systems of discrimination or disadvantage.” If one’s bias is toward the genes and the glands and the DNA of each sub-set of “victimized” people, juxtaposed against a dominant cultural group identified also by their chromosomes as the villains—white men usually, but that can change—one’s new faith will reflect that. Each faith needs a villain—Iblis, Amon or Chemosh or Satan. The devil in the new faith (as stated above) is western culture.
It exists to propagate the greatest sin, discrimination; how could it not be evil? Their truth unto salvation? Diversity; which they must proselytize unto the sword if necessary. The rallying cry of the cultural Marxists; against which there can be no argument, because who would dare defend exclusion? I sure don’t. What has always puzzled me is the common cause the cultural Marxists make with those who would destroy them—if only they had the power of the state. Have you ever watched a march of topless women decrying discrimination against Salafists and wondered “What is wrong with this?” Or organizations such as Southern Poverty Law Center issuing their secular fatwas against Muslim activists daring to propose a reformation to their religion, and asked “What is this all about?” When movements such as My Stealthy Freedom—Iranian women sharing videos of how they defy their religious police to walk to the store or down to the river without a Hijab are ignored or mocked, while modern progressive magazines (such as Allure)—the magazines of the naked-pink-hat-wearing marchers—put pictures of Hijab wearing women on the front saying “This is American Beauty?” What about Iranian beauty? What about Iranian freedom? All this comes from the new philosophy which interprets all actions subjectively through the lens of oppression, amalgamated into one gooey mass of oppression greater and more prescient than the smaller oppressions of the also-oppressed. All judgement is suspended in order to make a place for the new faith.
The greatest oppressors, historically through colonization abroad and culture at home—so it goes—are Christians and their church. Then, as if through osmosis and buttressed by so great a vitriol, these same post-modern cultural Marxist subjectivist thoughts move into all other areas of public life. A refugee is brought in, even as there is evidence that they are a clear and present danger to the welfare of the host communities because their collective victimization “trumps” individual oppression in which that refugee has been engaged, and certainly is a greater issue of concern than the recipient community’s safety. A baker must bake a cake though he considers the cake in question objectionable, because the recipient is part of the oppressed; assaults on restaurants that dared to do exactly what the same people demanded of the baker—serve whoever comes in—are applauded in a bait and switch that can only be understood examined through the lens of the new philosophy, new faith. Selective outrage, selective enforcement of the law, selective compassion—with the beneficiaries being only those who self-identify as oppressed.
The greatest oppression, therefore, “trumps” (no pun intended) lesser oppressions as decided by nouveau prophets at public universities, the media, and Hollywood. Gramsci’s “cultural hegemony” is in full flowering.
As in all faiths, there is a process of penance. The Catholic Church of old called them indulgences; in Islam they are tawba; repentance in Protestantism; renunciation in Buddhism. The new progressive faith also has penance—in the form of renunciation of “white privilege”; most often done publicly. We see these all over America these days; from strange Gregorian-like chanting interrupting objectionable speakers, to college courses on “toxic masculinity,” to requests of people to “repent from the idolatry of whiteness.” If the repentance is sufficiently sincere it is forgiven and life goes on. But what happens to those who do not accept the new faith, who continue to cling desperately to their “guns and religion?” Just as the economic Marxist struggle included the extermination of the nobility and the bourgeoisie, so too cultural Marxism and its new faith must include the option to the annihilation of the unrepentant; perhaps not in that old life-and-death way, but instead the ending of careers, of platforms, of social media accounts and publishing contracts.
Legitimacy and the Law
All countries survive by law: common or otherwise, constitutions and statutes and regulations. Going back to the beginning of nationhood, countries have struggled with the idea of legitimacy; didn’t even the ancient Israelites demand from God a king—to legitimize their status as a nation? But what lends legitimacy; what gives law its universality? These are deep questions, examined over thousands of years of history and written up in treatises and documents and debated by great philosophers. It is important to touch on a few simple interpretations if we are to better understand what is going on. Because in it we find the answers to coercion. What right does one group have to exert their will over another; what makes a system legitimate, a leader legitimate; and from whence emanates the right of one group to use violence against another? Who writes the laws; where does law come from in the first place, and why are those laws right?
In Venezuela’s cultural Marxist political project (which descended very quickly into economic Marxism; the same which might happen in America but that analysis is not the purpose of this essay), they developed a sophisticated understanding of legitimacy. Hugo Chavez promoted the idea that legitimacy was derived by a “constituent power” represented by elected officials who would occasionally draft new “carta magna (constitutions),” based upon their ability to provide for the “basic needs of the permanent majority” and validated, legitimized by periodic and frequent referendums and plebiscites (mob rule, Jefferson would have called it). Hugo Chavez talked about a “permanent majority.” According to the cultural Marxists—Chavez included—true law was “positive,” as determined by the enacting of national legislation flowing from the demands of the permanent majority and eschewing all the old “rights” which were seen by the Chavistas as limitations on the power of the state to do its work. “Separation of powers weakens the state,” as the one-time president of Venezuela’s supreme court said. Wikipedia describes positivism as “(…) a philosophical theory stating that certain (‘positive’) knowledge is based on natural phenomena and their properties and relations. Thus, information derived from sensory experience, interpreted through reason and logic, forms the exclusive source of all certain knowledge.” Legitimacy through enacted, progressive legislation.
Positivist law is often juxtaposed against that other, fundamental theory of law called natural law. Our founding fathers believed in natural law; “The laws of God written on the hearts of men” or “The truths we hold self-evident”—“The laws of nature and of nature’s God.” Principles inherent in humanity which date to our creation and yet must be discovered and rediscovered and discovered again through reason and faith and functionality. Because law is pragmatic, more than anything else—of how to live a life together in community which is a life well-lived, a life more abundant; not utopian, seeing fields of flowers beyond the next bread line.
Natural rights philosophers and scholars—Aristotle, Cicero, Aquinas, Locke—know from whence the legitimacy of the law derives; seeking as we always are to get as close as we can to the “laws of nature and of nature’s God.” Natural rights lawyers know that positive law can often violate natural law. While a government may enact a law, and enforce it at the point of a gun, those facts don’t make them right. Nazi Germany; socialist Venezuela; USSR—these are all examples of deeply held positivist legal traditions which violate natural law. But, for positivists, where does derived legitimacy emerge? In an effort of circular reasoning, legitimacy is given to the state by the permanent majority and then derived from the actions of that state (through legislation, regulation, or coercion) as upheld by bureaucrats at all levels of government then enforced by the police. As Barrack Obama said on many occasions, legitimacy comes because “I won” so, if we want to change legitimacy “You don't like a particular policy or a particular president? Then argue for your position. Go out there and win an election. Push to change it.”
The Control of The State
Of course, what happens if you lose the state; what if in fact the state changes suddenly and deliberately to begin to prioritize issues you at best do not care about or at worst, ones you think are wrong . . . are evil? In that case, the conundrum—what right do the positivists have to hold those beliefs, going as they do now against positive law, established by the state? Formulated differently, if it is the state which determines morality through positive law and regulation; what happens if you suddenly disagree with its priorities? What right do you have to do that? This is not a new problem—it is one as old as Plato; and without any answers then or now. The only options remain, to be silent, or try to “Go out there and win an election” in the hopes it can be changed back—but what about in the meantime? You have no other option, attack the legitimacy of the state.
The effect of all this, perhaps unintended (perhaps not), by the cultural Marxists, has been the slow and steady transformation of the nature of the American republic.
Do you recall the slick little campaign trick by the Obama campaign in 2012 called “Life of Julia?” A vision of a life lived under the benefactor state. If you recall, Julia had no parents, no friends, and no family. She was not a member of a community, had no faith nor participated in any clubs or extracurricular activities. She had no great love, no meaningful connections. She was utterly individual, alone. Why be bothered with so great a trouble as all those terrible, complicated entanglements? She had the state. It gave her a job, an education, health care—even caring for her child (Julia was not married).
In 1941 James Burnham wrote his influential book entitled the Managerial Revolution. Burnham himself was an aged Marxist who had left the party (as so many did) frustrated by the excesses and brutality of Stalin and the failure of that model to make life better for those under its dominion. This exit did not bring him into capitalism; planners have a deep distrust for the principles of spontaneous order. Instead he saw a new type of society, carefully planned and organized and administered by a benevolent managerial class. “If the temporary workers' control is replaced by the old control of capitalist owners (as happened in the two revolutionary crises in Germany at the end of, and a few years after, the first world war), then society, after a crisis, has simply returned to its previous capitalist structure. If workers' control is replaced by the de facto control of the managers backed by a new kind of state, then capitalism, after a transitional crisis, has changed into managerial society.”
Over the last fifty years (or more, probably since the Wilsonian period) the United States has been drifting from its agrarian, Jeffersonian roots to become more and more an oligopoly, oligarchy, and political duopoly. Miriam-Webster defines oligarchy as “government by the few”, while a duopoly is “a situation in which two suppliers dominate the market for a commodity or service (in this case two political parties)” and an oligopoly which is “the concentration ratio measures the market share of the largest firms.” As Julius Krein wrote,
Whereas in entrepreneurial capitalism the owners are the managers, in managerialism the owners rely upon the technical expertise of the managers and over time cede to the managers effective control of the economy. The most obvious illustration of this trend is the gradual withdrawal of the large bourgeois owners from active business management, to the point where the major corporations are nominally owned by passive shareholders but actually controlled by technically trained and credentialed professionals who own a trivial percentage of stock.
This has caused society to be cut into three distinct pieces. Unlike the popular movements which decry “The 1%” or the “99%”—in actuality there are three distinct segments. First the 0.1%. Matthew Stewart writes,
It is in fact the top 0.1 percent who have been the big winners in the growing concentration of wealth over the past half century. According to the UC Berkeley economists Emmanuel Saez and Gabriel Zucman, the 160,000 or so households in that group held 22 percent of America’s wealth in 2012, up from 10 percent in 1963. If you’re looking for the kind of money that can buy elections, you’ll find it inside the top 0.1 percent alone.
But who are the 9.9%? Stewart continues,
So what kind of characters are we, the 9.9 percent? We are mostly not like those flamboyant political manipulators from the 0.1 percent. We’re a well-behaved, flannel-suited crowd of lawyers, doctors, dentists, mid-level investment bankers, M.B.A.s with opaque job titles, and assorted other professionals—the kind of people you might invite to dinner. In fact, we’re so self-effacing, we deny our own existence. We keep insisting that we’re “middle class” (…) One of the hazards of life in the 9.9 percent is that our necks get stuck in the upward position. We gaze upon the 0.1 percent with a mixture of awe, envy, and eagerness to obey. As a consequence, we are missing the other big story of our time. We have left the 90 percent in the dust—and we’ve been quietly tossing down roadblocks behind us to make sure that they never catch up.
The 9.9% are the managers, credentialed from the right schools and with the right friends and living in the right zip codes.
Then who are the last 90%? They too are divided, perhaps evenly, into two groups. Many are Julia; with a significant percentage as active or passive cultural Marxists; post-modernists all. Living in perfect individualist isolation, with only the state to protect them, their relationship with the 9.9% is symbiotic. The 9.9% need them to continue to advance their privilege and do their dirty work as foot soldiers of the current world order they are building on behalf of the 0.1%: brown shirts smashing windows and tearing down statues and burning books and assaulting speakers in the hopes of scaring those who dissent into submission. While in turn the cultural Marxists need the 9.9% to continue the patronage systems of protection and to continue to perfect society by waging administrative and bureaucratic war against the victimizers and oppressors. What they do not see are the roadblocks thrown up in their paths, the 9.9% “pulling up the ladder as they ascend” as Nobel Prize winning economist Angus Deaton wrote in “The Great Escape.” The last group has been coined perfectly by the 0.1% as the “basket of deplorables.” They are not a part of the system; at least not as it is being designed by the managers. In their case, massive welfare schemes are meant to keep them quiet and docile even while the 0.1% fly from one “urban archipelago” to another avoiding the flyover areas hic sunt dracones and their 9.9% minions run their mega-businesses and government offices from the perfect protection of select zip codes; all the while promising that soon, very soon a balance will be achieved which will allow everybody to participate in our perfectly “managed” utopian world—and we will have no more need for a state. As Darel E. Paul writes, “Any positive order reached spontaneously through the interactions of individuals and groups is either impossible or inefficient. Positive order must be intentionally produced through expert managerial technique. In fact, this is the way all organizational goods are realized. In a managerial society all enjoy the fruits of greater efficiency, creativity, and productivity as society’s opportunities for advancement are more effectively distributed. No human capital will go to waste.”
That is the new social contract which is emerging in America and is already well advanced in Europe.
The only trouble, of course, is that the world order they are desperate to preserve is failing. And we have come full circle.
Where Has This Led?
Were you surprised by the November 2016 “progressive” freakout—a freakout that has continued unabated for eighteen months and involved bizarre levels of hysteria from people who were once seen as smooth and suave and collected? Because I was; inspiring me to read and research as I tried to understand if only for myself what was going on. Here goes.
Utopians see only the evil all around; eschewing the reality that everything could be much, much worse (and often is, just ask the Venezuelans) just as easily as our tinkering might slightly improve things. They believe in the perfectible man; a man to be improved upon, but what is it that keeps society—humanity—from reaching so great a height? The paramount evil as defined by the cultural Marxists is oppression as a vehicle for inequality as a product of discrimination. But how to purge it? Each one of us needs to believe in the legitimacy of our actions, and subjective post-modernists are no different. This legitimacy they find in positive law, because it allows them to do what natural law forbids (violations of life, liberty, and property)—while conveniently divorcing them from the need to acknowledge “nature’s God” because He, too, is seen as oppressive.
Abandoning the constraining nature of culture (faith and family and natural law) and bestowing their fate onto the mammoth benevolent state as their protector and the champion of their war against inequality in the form of discrimination. But what happens when a “deplorable,” one of those so far outside the system that they were not even to be considered, seizes the state—and not just any state, the most important one in the world? If legality, if truth is positively derived from the edicts and regulations and legislations of government—what happens if that government is enacting deplorable laws? What happens if the “permanent majority” were to become a minority? Hugo Chavez realized the potential of this problem, even if America’s cultural Marxists never considered it (hence the wailing); he knew, told by his Cuban communist advisers, that he needed 15 years. Fifteen years to cement his permanent majority through a campaign of wealth destruction and dependency creation and education reform assuring that the permanent majority would remain so. That might have happened in the United States had Hillary Clinton won, but she did not. What happens if the deplorables are the new “permanent majority”—or at very least a force in society with rights and visions of their own? The cultural Marxists, having created no community and sought no protection among society—in point of fact antagonizing the society they so need in their great march through the institutions, fueled by hubris—are now stuck alone and adrift and extremely vulnerable.
What to do, then, if the plan to build a permanent majority is aborted? Upon what would I rest my comfort—if I too were left alone? Upon that ancient idea of legitimacy. It must be, it has to be, it cannot be other but that this King of the Deplorables is illegitimate. He stole it. The Russians, the FBI, the popular vote, the server, Wikileaks. Whatever the next pitstop on the rolling road of desperation. Impeachment—that ultimate prize, the crucible of illegitimacy—that is the desire. It was all a mistake, it was a coup—it was . . . Treason.
I started this essay talking about the pictures on my wall; stories of civilizations hung on walls as a reminder of a world which has become at once small and forgetful. Because—still—what happens in America has echoes across our two great waters and over deserts and mountains and through cities rich and those surrounded by slums. Our managers, our cultural Marxists are also yours, in a globalized world. An enormous, powerful state that is now supra-national, administered by the global 9.9% in New York and Brussels and Vienna and Geneva and Kuala Lumpur who believe they know best and have been bestowed the mantle of global management. They are the bankers who approve loans to corrupt foreign governments; United Nations technocrats who 'fight poverty' from their expensive apartments in the swankiest parts of Manila and Dhaka; mid-level bureaucrats who work in any number of alphabet soup agencies in the opulent areas of the world’s capitals and believe we are only one regulation, one training program, one needs assessment away from "making it work". All backed up and responding to the real 0.1%, who meet annually in Bilderberg to discuss "illiberal democracy" or populism or any number of other challenges to the world they are so anxious to continue to order.
The flyover areas now also include abandoned villages in Italy and towns perched precariously beside the great deserts in China; Timbuktu and Lake Chad; over which fly “global citizens”, descending from the skies above into Urban Archipelago after Urban Archipelago—Dubai to Beijing to Mumbai and Tokyo and on to Los Angeles. People who are more likely to talk of Monaco than Minot; who probably have more Facebook friends in Switzerland than they do in Soledad and who can speak five languages but cannot find a way to communicate with a gas station owner in the Smoky Mountains or the new deplorable president of the world’s greatest republic.
And the new International Socialist marches on, conducting like an orchestra the international battle cry to be managed; a beautiful melody of outrage and victimization and oppression, selectively targeted against the villains who so perfectly match our own American villains in profile. Rage against a border wall, ignoring the 600-mile-long wall erected by the Saudis to keep out poor Iraqis; decrying immigration laws overlooking the Central American refugees deported by Mexico; words like ‘bigot’ and ‘racist’ hurled as new weapons against the prohibition of calls to prayer in the ancient silence of the Black Forest while turning a blind eye to the Christians murdered in Egypt and Iraq. Condemn Israel; ignore Palestine’s martyr factories and hold only the West accountable for Global Warming while letting Brazil and China and Africa and India propagate the sixth great extinction. This madness all has the same traits, for the 'victim'—all is permissible. For the oppressor, nothing.
Cultural Marxism is not a recipe for civilizational renewal; for pragmatic problem-solving in a world which is crowded and chaotic and unequal. So where to go from here? Who knows—I would like to think we can find common ground and begin to discover common solutions to common problems; it is for this reason that I read and write and think. And I would like to think we can begin to respect each other, even if we hold differing opinions—but that seems far from possible. So, I go in fear, especially for my little boy. Because outside, there really are dragons; I see them on the television screens and as they fill up my social media accounts with sewage. As they stand guard naked and unashamed in front of churches I frequent or eateries I enjoy, and I wonder what world am I bequeathing to him? And it makes me sad.
 “The Coming Anarchy”, The Atlantic, Robert Kaplan, February 1994 https://www.theatlantic.com/magazine/archive/1994/02/the-coming-anarchy/304670/
 “The Urban Archipelago” Seattle Stranger, Editorial Board, November 2004 https://www.thestranger.com/seattle/the-urban-archipelago/Content?oid=19813
 “The Flight 93 election” Claremont Review of Books, Publius Decius Mus, September 2016 http://claremont.org/crb/basicpage/the-flight-93-election/
 “The Bolivarian Revolution and Socialism of the 21st century”, In Defense of Marxism, August 2005, https://www.marxist.com/chavez-socialism-21century110805.htm
 “Prison Notebooks: V1, 2 &3”, Colombia University Press, Antonio Gramsci, January 2011
 “Caudillo, Ejercito y Pueblo: La Venezuela de Hugo Chavez,” Ediciones Sieghels, Norberto Ceresole, Agosto 2015
 “Why Liberalism Failed: Book Review”, National Review, Christian Gonzalez, June 2018 https://www.nationalreview.com/2018/06/book-review-why-liberalism-failed-patrick-deneen/
 “Why Liberalism Failed”, Yale University Press, Patrick Deneen, February 2018
 “The Frankfurt School and Critical Theory”, Internet Encyclopedia of Philosophy https://www.iep.utm.edu/frankfur/
 “Réflexions sur le mensonge”, Allia Publishing, Alexandre Koyre, May 1998
 “Becoming a Self”, Purdue University Press, Merold Westphal, September 1996
 “The Managerial Revolution: What is Happening in the World”, Praeger Press, James Burnham, April 1972
 Julius Krein “James Burnham’s Managerial Elite”, American Affairs Journal, Julius Krein, February 2017 https://americanaffairsjournal.org/2017/02/james-burnhams-managerial-elite/
 “The 9.9 Percent Is the New American Aristocracy”, The Atlantic, by Matthew Steward, June 2018 https://www.theatlantic.com/magazine/archive/2018/06/the-birth-of-a-new-american-aristocracy/559130/
 “Diversity: A Managerial Ideology”, Quillette, by Darel E. Paul, February 2018 http://quillette.com/2018/02/19/diversity-managerial-ideology/
Joel D. Hirst is a writer and novelist; his most recent novel is I, Charles, From the Camps. He was a Fellow in Human Freedom at the George W. Bush Institute in Dallas and an International Affairs Fellow at the Council on Foreign Relations. He has a Masters from Brandeis University. He tweets @joelhirst and his public facebook is @JoelDHirst
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